Start a new small business or structure your life around your family. Many women struggle with the choice. Not Khym Catton. When she launched her successful clothing business, Sugar Love, four years ago, she chose both.
Khym has always considered herself an entrepreneur, but after college and marriage, she and her husband agreed that she would be the primary caregiver to their children and he would be the one who brought home the bacon. Although Khym had dabbled in small business before and had a creative, artistic bent, she never pursued her own passion. “I always had ideas, but life got really busy,” Khym says. She knew she wasn’t willing to commit to something that put her family life second.
Though she found a lot of satisfaction in her role as a wife and mother, the itch to try to start her own business was always there. Spurred on by girlfriends launching their own ventures, Khym decided to build her business around a favorite hobby, sewing, and the beauty of her homeland of Hawaii. “I started by sewing and printing simple things, like baby blankets, t-shirts and capri pants. I created the type of clothes I wanted to wear, that were comfortable and easy and would work on all types of bodies.” Even today, Khym hand-sews about 30% of her items herself, and designs, embroiders and prints everything else. “It is very important to me that I create an authentic Hawaiian product. I would never want my business to grow so much that my products are not Hawaiian made and inspired.”
Khym started selling her clothes at house parties and farmer’s markets. In her second year, she went full force, hitting Hawaii’s many local craft fairs and selling at community social events. One thing she never aspired to? A Sugar Love store. “Early on, I decided I didn’t want a storefront. I wanted to be able to travel with my family, and be there for our lives together. Being tied to a storefront really would have interfered with that.” Fortunately, Khym had the internet to use as a portal to her customers, through social media and the Sugar Love website. “The website makes selling things much easier than it ever would have been twenty years ago, although I admit it was tricky to launch at first,” Khym says. “Facebook has been great for me. Sugar Love Facebook friends even suggest products they want and it helps me know what to create next.” Although Khym won’t compromise the vision she has for her products, she does ask for and respond to customer influence. “I like hearing what people want to buy. There are products that I personally love that just didn’t sell. I track that and I don’t offer them anymore.”
Sugar Love’s biggest sellers are Khym’s coral graphics and jellyfish designs. “They’re different, and my customers like that,” Khym explains. “After all, how many Old Navy t-shirts are there out there? Sugar Love is small, and that makes our clothes feel unique.” Some of the best selling products are ones that Khym still sews herself. “I have a butterfly sleeve top that people love, and a hipster skirt you can wear over a bathing suit or out and about. I like clothes that you can dress up or down. Sugar Love clothes are all about Hawaii but they can be worn anywhere. I even wore some of my dresses with leggings and a jacket in Oregon.
Khym’s first piece of advice for the small-business wannabe? Know who you are. “You need to ask yourself what the purpose of your business is. What do you want? What are your goals?” She advises making those goals concrete and official. “I did everything backwards,” Khym confesses. “I didn’t write a business plan until two years in and now I find it really helpful to guide me. If I had it to do again, I would have written the business plan first.” Even before the plan, Khym’s easy nature allowed her to roll with the inevitable punches. In the end, if you make mistakes, Khym feels they are just learning experiences. “I don’t want to live super-stressed out. Remember that everything is fixable.”
Another important thing Khym knows? Small business doesn’t have to equal huge amounts of debt. “You always need to be careful with your finances. Set a budget for your business and stick to it. I don’t want to go to bed at night freaking out because I got in over my head and I owe someone $20,000,” she says. “I’m not in debt, and I make money at this. Initially, instead of paying myself, I re-invested in the business. They say that a small business doesn’t usually turn a profit and allow income for three to five years. Sugar Love did that after only two, and it is growing all the time.”
Khym rightfully speaks of the business she has created while not sacrificing her family time with true fondness. “I’m proud to say I did this all myself,” Khym says. “It makes me feel good when people search out my clothes, or see me wearing my own products and ask me where I got them.” Khym considers herself the best advertisement for her business, even letting her guiding principles choose its name. “I live my life believing you can achieve anything you want,” says Khym. “Whatever your calling is, that’s your passion. That’s your Sugar Love.”
Khym was awesome enough to send some samples of her clothing my way so I could get a real hands-on feel for them. The first thing I noticed is the quality. The material for the shirts is jersey knit, which I love. They are soft to the touch, like a well-worn tee you’ve had for a while. This also means that the material is not heavy at all. It’s just enough to take the chill off on a warm, breezy day.
My favorite of the tops was the Charcoal Grey Hooded Long-sleeve. It has a flower print on the front with a small Sugar Love logo on the bottom, and it has a vintage feel. It was light and comfortable. I liked that the fit was a little longer (on my 5’1 frame), coming down past my belt-line by a few inches. This leaves room for shrinkage from washing. A close second was the Razor Tank. It was a neutral tan/brown color with a coral print in the bottom right corner. The fit was loose, and the neckline wasn’t too low, yet the soft fabric made it drape flatteringly. You won’t need to layer with another tank; just wear a racer back bra. Because the material was so light, it was also a little sheer, so I wouldn’t recommend a colorful or printed bra unless you want others to see it.
The yoga pants are comfortable and allow for easy movement. I tried the Navy Blue with a Gold Coral print and thought the color combo was great. The material of the pants is definitely heavier, but not so much that it would turn your legs into a sauna. The waist fit had a higher rise; these are not hip-huggers.
The price for these custom made clothes is quite reasonable. They range from $25 to $65 per piece, and many of the items are handmade. Currently, SugarLove.net features a wide variety of women’s apparel from tanks to dresses to kimono style robes. They also have adorable totes and baby blankets. With classic Hawaiian prints bursting with island color to casual style neutrals, there’s something for almost any taste. The tops especially can work effortlessly with shorts, jeans, and sweatpants. Khym Catton has done a great job making her brand wearable and with a distinctive Hawaiian flair that is not touristy. The logo is subtly placed within the design so you can actually wear the pieces without feeling like a billboard. If you are someone who likes to be active or even just be comfortable, this is a great option. – Jessica Hancock
For a chance to win the outfit Jessica is wearing (hoodie, tank, yoga pants), follow @SweatpantsCafe on Twitter and share the link to this post along with the hashtags #SweatpantsAndCoffee and #SugarLoveApparel between now and August 2. A randomly selected winner will receive the selected items of clothing in their size. Tweet must include the link to this post and BOTH hashtags.